Recreational therapy uses activity to help people with illnesses or disabilities improve their health and quality of life. Recreational therapists, also called RTs, work with patients in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, mental health facilities, schools, and other settings. They help patients reduce depression, stress, and anxiety. RTs also help patients regain physical and cognitive functioning.
To become a recreational therapist, students must complete a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy. Coursework covers topics like psychology, anatomy, disability studies, and recreation theories. Students also complete supervised internships working directly with patients. After graduating, recreational therapists must obtain a state license and professional certification to practice. Licensure requires continuing education to stay current on best practices.
A bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy or a related major is the typical education required for recreational therapists. Coursework provides a foundation in areas like psychology, anatomy and physiology, disabilities and disorders, and recreational therapy techniques.
Common classes in recreational therapy bachelor’s programs include:
- Theories of recreation, leisure, and play
- Disabling conditions and terminology
- Recreational therapy interventions
- Psychology and counseling
- Anatomy and physiology
- Assessment, documentation, and evaluation
- Recreation program planning
In addition to coursework, students complete supervised fieldwork and internships. These experiential requirements allow students to gain hands-on experience working directly with patients. Internships take place at hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, adaptive sports programs, and other sites.
Licensure and Certification
After graduating, recreational therapists must obtain proper credentials to practice. Each state has its own licensure requirements to legally provide recreational therapy services. Most states require passing a national certification exam.
The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) administers the professional certification program for recreational therapists. To obtain the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) credential, candidates must pass the NCTRC exam. Maintaining CTRS certification requires completing continuing education.
Course Topics in a Degree in Recreational Therapy
Recreational therapy degree programs equip students with knowledge across several domains. Common course topics include:
- Theories of recreation and leisure – Examines concepts, models, and historical foundations related to recreation and leisure
- Disabilities and disorders – Covers common disabilities and health conditions seen in recreational therapy practice
- Recreational therapy interventions – Presents activity-based interventions to improve functioning for different disabilities
- Psychology and counseling – Provides a background in counseling techniques used to facilitate recreational therapy
- Anatomy and physiology – Studies body systems and structures relevant to understanding patient conditions and functioning
- Assessment and documentation – Trains students on assessing patients, planning treatment, and documenting progress
The combination of these courses prepares graduates to provide recreational therapy services in various healthcare and community settings.
Career Paths with a Recreational Therapy Degree
Recreational therapists can pursue a variety of jobs, including:
- Rehab hospital RT – Work closely with patients recovering from strokes, spinal cord injuries, brain trauma, and other conditions to regain functioning through activity-based interventions.
- Geriatric RT – Lead recreation programs at nursing homes and assisted living facilities tailored to seniors’ needs and capabilities to maintain cognitive, physical, and social functioning.
- Pediatric RT – Provide therapeutic play and recreation to help children in schools or hospitals manage illnesses, disabilities, or emotional/behavioral issues.
- Mental health RT – Use arts, crafts, sports, games, and adventurous activities to help patients at psychiatric hospitals or residential facilities develop coping strategies and social skills.
- Adaptive sports coach – Enable those with disabilities to participate in adapted sports leagues for basketball, tennis, hiking, kayaking, and more by providing instruction, equipment, encouragement and supervision.
- Correctional facility RT – Work with juvenile residents or adult inmates through structured recreational activities to facilitate rehabilitation, health, and eventual community reintegration.
As healthcare continues shifting toward quality, community-based support services, demand for licensed and certified recreational therapists in diverse therapeutic and rehabilitative roles is projected to grow.
Recreational Therapy: Where Passion Meets Purpose
Recreational therapy is a specialized allied health profession that uses activity interventions to help patients regain functioning and improve their health and wellbeing. A bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy provides the foundation needed to work with patients in hospitals, rehab centers, schools, and community-based programs.
Proper training in patient assessment, treatment planning, interventions, documentation, and more are covered through a combination of academic courses and hands-on clinical experiences. Licensure and the CTRS certification offer further evidence of therapists’ qualifications and readiness to practice.
With a recreational therapy degree, students can pursue rewarding careers helping children and adults with disabilities advance their functioning, independence, and overall quality of life through the power of purposeful recreation and play. As focus increases on community-based support services, recreational therapists will continue to serve a vital role on healthcare teams.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Recreational Therapy Degree
What types of patients do recreational therapists work with?
Recreational therapists work with patients across the lifespan who have illnesses, disabilities, or injuries including spinal cord injuries, stroke, brain trauma, autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, depression, anxiety, substance abuse issues, and more. RTs help these patients improve functioning and quality of life through purposeful therapeutic activities.
What does a typical day look like for a recreational therapist?
A recreational therapist’s daily work is varied and fast-paced. It may involve assessing patients, documenting progress notes, meeting with healthcare teams to review treatment plans, designing tailored therapy sessions for individuals or groups, assisting patients with creative arts activities, games, sports, and leading other programs based on patients’ goals.
What undergraduate degree is required to become a recreational therapist?
A bachelor’s degree specifically in recreational therapy prepares students to become RTs by teaching foundations of the field including therapy techniques, psychology, anatomy, disabilities, recreation theory, and more. Some related undergraduate degrees like exercise science, psychology, or special education may require additional coursework before entering the field.
What is the job outlook for recreational therapy careers?
The job outlook for recreational therapy careers over the next decade is excellent – the field is projected to grow 18% from 2020-2030, much faster than the average across all occupations. Demand is being driven by healthcare’s increasing focus on quality of life, function, community support services and aging populations needing therapeutic activity.
Do recreational therapists need to be licensed?
Yes, to legally practice as recreational therapists most states require licensure which involves passing a national certification exam administered by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC), as well as completing continuing education for license renewal. The Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) credential displays therapists’ qualifications.